The Cleveland Indians are down their starting catcher – this is why they will survive
It is now late July, and the Cleveland Indians are clearly contenders. Their 54-38 record is the best in the American League Central, and their .587 winning percentage is the best in the entire American League. Only the Detroit Tigers stand a remote chance of stopping the Tribe on their quest for the AL Central crown, although their 5.5-game deficit looks to be too much of a burden for the so-so Tigers to overcome.
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Now, they are without their starting catcher. Yan Gomes suffered a separated shoulder on Sunday, and he is expected to miss six to eight weeks. The injury is sure to be a disruption to the pitching staff, as they have come to know Gomes well. While the relationship between a pitcher and his catcher can be overblown, it is important to remember that these players have to be on the same page for the entire game. A slight miscommunication can lead to a misinterpreted signal, which can lead to an untimely hit or home run that costs a team the game.
Yan Gomes has appeared in 71 of the Indians’ 92 games so far, and only Chris Gimenez has logged any significant amount of time with the major league team. Still, he has only played in 35 games, and he has received a little less than half the innings that Gomes has. Certainly, this is not an unfamiliarity death sentence, but it does appear to be a minor complication.
This said Yan Gomes missed quite a bit of time last season with another significant injury. Over the past two seasons, the Brazilian-born catcher has spent just over 1,372 innings behind home plate, which Roberto Perez and Chris Gimenez have spent 580.1 and 223 innings, respectively. Suddenly the familiarity issue seems to be much less of an issue and more of an inconvenience. For this reason, the Yan Gomes injury is more likely to be less of a major obstacle and more of a minor disturbance.
Another reason why the injury should not affect the Indians’ playoff odds is that Yan Gomes has not been that great of a batter this season. Among all players with at least 250 plate appearances, he has the worst batting average, on-base percentage, and sixth-worst slugging percentage. In fact, FanGraphs estimates that his bat has been nearly 23 runs worse than the average batter. Only Erick Aybar of the Atlanta Braves has been worse, but Gomes reclaims the last place if one looks at it at the runs per plate appearance level.
Ironically enough, replacing Yan Gomes with Roberto Perez and Chris Gimenez could be a major upgrade for the Cleveland Indians. Perez will likely play a bit more than Gimenez given their past performances, but the duo will almost certainly play better than Gomes did. Truthfully, any improvement would be welcome since the Cleveland Indians currently have had the least production from the catcher’s position of any team in baseball, per FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement.
Surely, one would never hope for an injury, and losing a player who has two elite seasons under his belt is nothing to enjoy. But at the end of the day, Yan Gomes has been struggling enough this year that even turning to two backup catchers is likely to provide enough surplus value to overcome the inconvenience of losing the familiar backstop. Hopefully, Gomes will have a quick and full recovery and rediscover his old form when he returns. Until then, the Cleveland Indians should be okay with what they have.